Can You Get Punitive Damages for a Wrongful Death Case in New York?

Scales of justice on a wooden table

The total damages award in most New York wrongful death cases can be substantial. However, punitive damages will be a component of the total award in only a few of those cases. The compensation that a deceased accident victim’s family can recover will be based primarily on their actual and prospective economic and non-economic losses.

This does not mean that punitive damages are impossible to recover. If the circumstances merit, the New York City personal injury lawyers at Douglas and London will always include a punitive damages cause of action in a wrongful death lawsuit. In every case, our accident and injury attorneys use all available resources and facts to recover the largest possible total damages awards for aggrieved family members.

What is the difference between punitive damages and economic and non-economic damages?

When someone’s negligence leaves an accident victim with property losses and personal injuries, that victim has a right and opportunity to recoup compensation. That compensation will include reimbursement for all medical costs and expenses, replacing any wages that the victim did not earn when injuries prevent them from working. It will also include payments to compensate for the pain and suffering that the victim experiences while injuries are healing.

Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not a direct function of the accident victim’s losses and injuries. Instead, they are a penalty levied on the negligent party for egregious or willfully negligent conduct.

A jury might award punitive damages in a wrongful death case where, for example, a negligent party demonstrated a total disregard for the safety and security of other persons. In that respect, punitive damages impose significant financial penalties that act as a deterrent for this behavior.

What are some specific examples of egregious conduct that might justify a punitive damages award?

Punitive damages have been awarded in wrongful death cases where:

  • a physician destroyed evidence after a child that had been under the physician’s care died
  • a repeat or habitual drunk driver caused an accident that resulted in a fatality
  • manufacturers of consumer products emphasized profits over product safety and sold dangerous or defective products that caused consumer deaths
  • nursing home caregivers intentionally ignored the needs of residents that died as a result of the neglect.

No common or single fact pattern leads to a punitive damages award in a wrongful death case. A knowledgeable and experienced NYC wrongful death lawyer will assess the potential for them– on a case by case basis.

 Does New York place limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be recovered?

Although there are no caps or limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be recovered under state law, New York courts have pushed back against excessive punitive damages awards over the past several years. Our State’s courts generally apply a rationale the United States Supreme Court established to evaluate the reasonableness of a punitive damages award, which includes asking:

  • how reprehensible was the conduct of the negligent party?
  • what is the ratio of the victim’s economic and non-economic damages to the punitive damages award?
  • are there any other legislative sanctions for similar misconduct?

A personal injury lawyer seeking punitive damages case can apply a similar rationale to the facts of the case to predict whether those damages are viable.     

Contact Douglas and London for a free consultation

Please see our website or call us at Douglas and London in Manhattan for experienced legal representation in a wrongful death case. We will provide a thorough assessment of the damages you and your family are entitled to recover, including economic and non-economic damages and punitive damages.